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The top fourleaders in Congress gave marching orders to their staffs to start work on adeal to avert the fiscal cliff before the Thanksgiving break, and the staff gotto work.
One thing is for sure: Both sides have had plenty of practiceat this during the past few years — especially in navigating the serialshutdown showdowns of 2011. While there has been some turnover — SpeakerJohn A. Boehner, R-Ohio,has a new chief of staff in Mike Sommers — most of the other playersremain the same. Along with Sommers, the key staffers whosehandshakes will help seal the deal are White House Chief of StaffJacob J. Lew, chieflegislative liaison Rob Nabors and Senate Majority LeaderHarry Reid’s,D-Nev., chief of staff, David Krone. Krone, Lew and Nabors all benefit fromhaving participated in several rounds of similar negotiations. “This isnot the first time that any of them have been to this rodeo,” a seniorDemocratic aide said. Plus, Krone and Nabors have good relations with Sommers.To be sure, other players will be in the room, among them:Gene Sperling, White Housechief economic adviser; Brett Loper, Boehner’s policy chief; SteveStombres, the chief of staff for House Majority LeaderEric Cantor, R-Va.; NeilBradley, Cantor’s policy guy; John Lawrence, House Minority LeaderNancy Pelosi’s,D-Calif., chief of staff; and Rohit Kumar, deputy chief of staff to SenateMinority Leader MitchMcConnell, R-Ky.
David Krone, Chief of staff forSenate Majority Leader HarryReid
Reid’s nattily dressed, intenselyfocused chief of staff has a knack for navigating the Senate’sminefields. He has a sharp political eye and a pragmatic streak for cutting adeal. The former telecommunications executive has deep ties to Reid and adeeper understanding of what he wants. Throughout 2011’s budget battles,Krone was the man in the room with Boehner’s then-chief of staff BarryJackson and Nabors. In the April 2011 discretionary spending fight, a handshakeearly on among those three averted the first government shutdown threat withoutmuch time to spare. After a rocky White House relationship under former WhiteHouse Chief of Staff William M.Daley, Krone has praised the administration and developed a closerelationship with Nabors. So far, they appear to be on the same page headinginto the negotiations. The White House and Reid successfully backed Boehnerinto a corner last year on the payroll tax cut when Obama supportedReid’s refusal to relitigate a deal he made with Senate Republicans.It’ll be worth watching, however, if a split emerges on entitlements.Reid has argued for not touching Social Security. But the issue was on thetable last year in talks between Obama and Boehner.
Jacob J. Lew, White House chief ofstaff
The White House chief of staff is rumored to beObama’s candidate to fill the Treasury secretary slot soon to be vacatedby Timothy F. Geithner.But for now, he’s Obama’s most experienced budget hand. Lew hasheld the budget director job for both President Bill Clinton and Obama andearlier worked for Speaker Tip O’Neill, so he knows all the issues at agranular level. Lew isn’t flashy, but has been a fierce protector ofDemocratic priorities behind the scenes — occasionally to the point ofirritating his Republican counterparts who feel he has a tendency to lecturethem. But Lew, more than any other staffer in Washington, has arésumé seemingly built for this moment, when Obama’sleverage is at its apex after winning a second term. And that was not byaccident. The White House under Lew’s guidance helped set up thisyear’s fiscal cliff to strengthen the president’s hand after talkson a grand bargain collapsed last year. Lew, of course, also is wearing otherhats: The president has to fill a number of high-profile posts, from CIAdirector to the top jobs at State, Treasury and Defense. Lew, who has servedstints at State as well as at Citigroup, will be in the mix of just abouteverything in the next month.
Rob Nabors, Director of legislativeaffairs White House
The White House’s chief legislativeliaison has been in the thick of negotiations the past two years and could getthe nod as Obama’s next budget chief. Nabors and Lew go back to theClinton years, when Lew tapped Nabors for a senior post at the Office ofManagement and Budget. Nabors then became a deputy at the OMB under Obamabefore becoming the liaison to Capitol Hill. He served a lengthy stint on theHill, most notably as staff director of the House Appropriations Committeeunder then-chairman David Obey. Nabors has a smooth, no-drama style.Republicans have called him a pro who keeps politics out of the negotiatingroom. And congressional Democrats credited him with almost single-handedlyrescuing the White House’s relationship amid friction with Daley.According to Krone, Nabors sensed the need for damage control and went out ofhis way to make sure Reid and Krone were fully briefed. Reid, in turn, went tobat for Nabors’ position inside the White House. “He told thepresident, ‘I don’t trust Daley, I trust Rob,’” KronetoldRoll Call earlier this year. Nabors’ role may be even greaterthis time around with Lew having to juggle many other tasks.
MikeSommers, Chief of staff for Speaker John A. Boehner
SpeakerJohn A. Boehner’schief of staff has been with Boehner going back to 1997 and has an intimateknowledge of what Boehner wants and what the GOP leadership can accept —a key to any negotiation, according to his colleagues. “Sommers is a realpro who has built trust on both sides of the aisle for a long time,”Stombres said. “He knows Boehner in and out.” Sommers has had avariety of roles over the years, including policy director, and he also serveda stint on President George W. Bush’s National Economic Council. He hadrun Boehner’s leadership operation before being named chief of staff inJune. Other House GOP aides say that Sommers is widening the circle comparedwith 2011, when Jackson ran the show. Indeed, Boehner has said publicly thatthe process needs to be more open than it was in 2011. That means Sommers willhave a lot of cooks in his kitchen. Leadership is holding daily meetings andbringing in top leaders and senior lawmakers, including Budget ChairmanPaul D. Ryan, R-Wis., Waysand Means Chairman DaveCamp, R-Mich., and Energy and Commerce ChairmanFred Upton, R-Mich.